Is mindfulness practice, which involves cultivating a bright and wakeful mind, relevant to getting a good night’s sleep – a state which, by contrast, requires no awareness?
Many people attest to mindfulness being helpful for sleep problems. They seem to be confused about the purpose of their practice. Isn’t meditation supposed to be about ‘falling awake’ rather than falling asleep?
If you are employing mindfulness skills with the aim of falling asleep, you might benefit from reviewing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of your practice. Intention is crucial to mindfulness. Formal meditation, whatever its form or technique, boils down to cultivating the intention to be aware and accepting of the conditions of the moment.
To be truly mindful in the face of sleeplessness is, therefore, to know and feel the experience, to let go of expectations to have things different, and to be open and willing to not be asleep.
How to be a Mindful Insomniac
To acknowledge the presenting experience (i.e. being involuntarily awake) and to consider how you might treat your physical being with gentleness and kindness (i.e. allowing it to relax and holding it tenderly) is to tap into the very foundations of wisdom and compassion and to live and breathe them.
‘Practice’ is always possible, even in the middle of the night! Your body and mind will feel all the more rested for that.
The paradox is that, through orientating yourself in this way, you may well end up falling asleep. But for the truly ‘mindful insomniac’, this would not signify the desired result, merely the cessation of the night’s practice.
If, on the other hand, you really don’t want to be a mindful insomniac, just an unconscious person, then you would be better off deploying some kind of specific relaxation technique, such as a yoga nidra practice intended to induce sleep.
That way, you may still get to sleep but you won’t have sewn any seeds of confusion for your mindfulness practice. Meditation is tricky enough without throwing more spanners in the works.
However you decide to deal with insomnia, it is best to be clear about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Mindfulness invites us to watch dispassionately how the mind gets caught in the gap between how things are and how we want them to be. That is all. Just watch. Let go of everything.
‘Letting go’ is, in fact, the only characteristic shared by states of mindfulness and sleep, for both become easier when ‘you’ get out of the way.
Richard Gilpin MA MBACP MBABCP (accred)
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